Adventures in central Mexico

Habitat, nursery/collection and show tours.
Frank103
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Adventures in central Mexico

Postby Frank103 » Fri Jan 26, 2018 7:55 pm

An invitation to a scientific meeting in Santiago de Queretaro gave me the perfect opportunity to combine business and pleasure. Having flown in to Mexico City airport I spent a few hours in the city centre, visiting the Zocalo (central square) and the presidential palace, both of which have something to offer to fans of cacti and succulents.

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Zocalo

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Presidential palace garden

My hosts and I then drove 3 hours north to Santiago de Queretaro where we stayed for 4 nights on the beautiful Hacienda Jurica, the conference venue which dates back to the 16th century when the land was given to Luís de Velasco, the second viceroy of New Spain.

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No cacti or succulents here but plenty of colourful birds!

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Vermilion flycatcher

At the end of the conference I hired car and spent 8 days exploring Queretaro and Hidalgo, mainly on the lookout for cacti but taking in the scenery and wildlife as well. My first stop was the famous botanical garden “Charco del Ingenio”, founded by Charles Glass in the 1990s. This was an hour’s drive north of Jurica, on the outskirts of San Miguel de Allende. The garden has a nice setting in a natural canyon, but most of the cacti and succulents are near the entrance and in and around the main greenhouse. At around £2 certainly worth a visit.

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Mammillaria compressa f. cristata

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Last edited by Frank103 on Sat Jan 27, 2018 4:47 pm, edited 1 time in total.
Mainly cacti, with a preference for Mexican ones, but I'm flexible!

Chairman of BCSS South Wales branch
Frank103
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Re: Adventures in central Mexico

Postby Frank103 » Fri Jan 26, 2018 8:10 pm

My next stop was the small town of Bernal, an hour east of Queretaro. Its major tourist attraction is the Pen~a de Bernal, the world’s 10th largest monolith.
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Just a few miles out of Bernal I got the first views of hillsides full of cacti (and succulents):
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I drove on to Cadereyta de Montes where I was going to spend the night at Hacienda San Antonio. But beforehand I visited the “Regional Botanic Garden” which I had seen mentioned on the internet. This turned out to be an excellent choice (better than the Villa Schmoll just down the road which does not receive the best reviews anymore). This botanic garden set on a hillside with a seamless transition from garden to nature specialises almost entirely in the local (State of Queretaro) flora, is very well maintained, and almost all the plants are labelled. Guides (in Spanish) are available too. Amazingly, entrance is free. I personally preferred it over Charco del Ingenio.
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Mammillaria muehlenpfordtii

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Yucca queretaroensis

The following day I continued north on Mexico highway 120 towards the Sierra Gorda. My first destination was a locality 12 miles north of Vizarron de Montes which has seen several UK based cactus explorers including Paul Klaassen, Ian Woolnough and Trevor Wray. It is most impressive for literally dozens of Strombocactus disciformis, but there are also some nice specimens of Lophophora diffusa, Opuntia microdasys as well as Thelocactus leucacanthus ssp. schmollii which was even in flower!
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Last edited by Frank103 on Sat Jan 27, 2018 4:48 pm, edited 1 time in total.
Mainly cacti, with a preference for Mexican ones, but I'm flexible!

Chairman of BCSS South Wales branch
Frank103
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Joined: 19 Aug 2013
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Re: Adventures in central Mexico

Postby Frank103 » Fri Jan 26, 2018 8:25 pm

Another stop a couple of miles further north yielded at least two different species of Coryphantha, Echinocereus pentalophus, a fine Mammillaria parkinsonii, some good-sized Echinocactus platyacanthus and numerous Christmas cholla (Cylindropuntia leptocaulis) which became quite attached to me…
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Coryphantha jalpanensis

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The highway then snaked up to an altitude of 2500m; at Pena Blanca I entered the Sierra Gorda Biosphere, a nature reserve with fantastic biodiversity which also featured in the recent 3-part BBC programme on Mexico.
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Sierra Gorda Ecotours offers great sustainable tourism options for wildlife enthusiasts including cabins, local guides or complete packages, highly recommended! I stayed for one night in a cabin at the Ecotours ‘headquarters’ on the edge of Jalpan de Serra, the main town in the Sierra Gorda Biosphere. I enjoyed watching the numerous birds and butterflies there.
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Great kiskadee

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Mexican bluewing

The following morning I visited the famous UNESCO world heritage mission church in Jalpan before exploring the banks of Ayutla and Santa Maria rivers north of Jalpan for some more wildlife.
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Malachite

In the afternoon I met up with one of the Ecotours guide (who spoke excellent self-taught English), and in his pickup truck we travelled east to Xilitla, visiting another 18th century mission church along the way in Landa de Matamoros.
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Last edited by Frank103 on Sat Jan 27, 2018 4:51 pm, edited 2 times in total.
Mainly cacti, with a preference for Mexican ones, but I'm flexible!

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Frank103
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Re: Adventures in central Mexico

Postby Frank103 » Fri Jan 26, 2018 8:45 pm

Our destination was the small community of La Trinidad 9 miles NW of Xilitla at an altitude of about 1900m, which can only be reached by 4-wheel drive. Here I stayed in a very rustic cabin without electricity, and I could see my breath in bed in the morning!
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After a hearty breakfast we hiked for 4 hours through cloud forest to an altitude of 2320m, the rim of the Sotano Hoya de la Luz, a spectacular sinkhole about 200m wide and 200m deep. We saw some fine agaves and bromeliads along the way, but the cactophilic highlight was a cluster of Mammillaria prolifera right at the peak, next to the abyss!
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Agave gracielae

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Minor spiny lizard

When I returned to Jalpan de Serra in the early evening the last day of the annual Huasteca festival was getting into full swing, with lots of crafts, music and food typical of the region.
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After a rather short night (my hotel Mision Jalpan was on the main square where the festival was held) I left the Sierra Gorda but made a final stop near Penamiller where I found a nice Astrophytum ornatum.
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Just before Cadereyta I turned off the MEX120 to head for Zimapan. The highlight of my next stop was a beautiful flowering specimen of Ferocactus latispinus.
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Close by was a sizeable cluster of Echinocereus cinerascens.
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Last edited by Frank103 on Sat Jan 27, 2018 4:53 pm, edited 1 time in total.
Mainly cacti, with a preference for Mexican ones, but I'm flexible!

Chairman of BCSS South Wales branch
Frank103
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Re: Adventures in central Mexico

Postby Frank103 » Fri Jan 26, 2018 9:04 pm

Along the road to Mesa de Leon I was hoping to find Ariocarpus kotschoubeyanus elephantidens for which I had coordinates from both Trevor Wray and Paul Klaassen. With a bit of luck they should be in flower too. I was not disappointed! I found 8 flowering plants on a few square metres, all looking at their best.
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But this was not the only species in flower at that location – for a change I found a yellow-flowering Thelocactus leucacanthus, presumably ssp. leucacanthus.
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At a stop overlooking the Zimapan reservoir I found some impressive clusters of Echinocactus platyacanthus but sadly not a single Echinocactus grusonii.
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Mainly cacti, with a preference for Mexican ones, but I'm flexible!

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Frank103
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Re: Adventures in central Mexico

Postby Frank103 » Fri Jan 26, 2018 9:20 pm

The hillsides north of the Zimapan reservoir were literally forests of cereoids:
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After a night in Ixmiquilpan I carried on to Cardonal, with the intention of driving into the Barranca de Metztitlan from the northwest. I saw many more Echinocactus platyacanthus as well as the ‘Chihuahua beehive cactus’, Neolloydia conoidea.
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The road that I had planned to take turned into a dirt track after Tolantongo (where the caves are a major tourist attraction) which was not really suitable for my Dodge rental car, and I didn’t want to risk a puncture on my own in the middle of nowhere. Therefore I turned round, drove back to Ixmiquilpan and took the long way to the Barranca via Pachuca in the south. Ironically I had a puncture near Actopan, but a quick vulcanisation restored the tyre and I hadn’t lost much more time.
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North of Atotonilco el Grande I made a couple of stops in the southern part of the Barranca de Metztitlan as the sun was beginning to go down. Highlights were a superb cluster of Mammillaria geminispina, the first stands of Cephalocereus senilis, some Hechtias as well as nicely green spikemoss (Selaginella lepidophylla).
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However, the best was simply the view of the landscape in the late afternoon sun:
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I then checked in to my ‘glamping’ hotel Sierra Verde on the edge of Huasca de Ocampo, the first ‘pueblo magico’. I stayed in a more conventional room though! Because it was out of season the restaurant was closed but the variety of birds in the extensive grounds was nice.
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Mainly cacti, with a preference for Mexican ones, but I'm flexible!

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Frank103
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Re: Adventures in central Mexico

Postby Frank103 » Fri Jan 26, 2018 10:12 pm

The next morning I drove north into the Barranca for the second time. I planned to go past the Laguna de Metztitlan all the way to San Pedro Gilo and San Juan Amajaque (Amajac). I had received some very good advice from Michael Greulich (who recently wrote about the Barranca in CactusWorld), as well as some GPS coordinates from Trevor Wray. My first stop was one recommended by Michael Greulich, just south of Metztitlan at a river crossing. By the time I got there, a sunny morning had turned into grey drizzle, impacting on the photography. Most of the cacti and succulents here lived cremnophytically, in crevices in a near-vertical limestone cliff. Among them were several Ferocactus glaucescens, Agave mitis and numerous Mammillaria geminispina.
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A bit further along there were many more fine Cephalocereus senilis and Echinocactus platyacanthus, just a shame about the light!
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However, worse was to come. When I reached the Laguna de Metztitlan, the road ended in it as the lake had flooded the valley.
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Overhead, a turkey vulture was looking for a victim…
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Mainly cacti, with a preference for Mexican ones, but I'm flexible!

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Frank103
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Re: Adventures in central Mexico

Postby Frank103 » Fri Jan 26, 2018 10:22 pm

There was not much for me to do but to turn around and return to Huasca de Ocampo. I used the unplanned ‘afternoon off’ to visit the impressive Prismas basalticos nearby as well as the town of Huasca.
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The following day was my last in Mexico. The famous Aztec city of Teotihuacan was on the way to the airport and well worth a visit. At a mile long it was one of the largest cities in the world in its heyday. Its best known features are the Pyramids of the Sun and the Moon but the Palace of Quetzalpapalotl (“beautiful butterfly”) is visually the most spectacular.
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However, I should finish this travelogue with a cactus, albeit one that is not native to central Mexico but Baja California: Stenocereus gummosus. It grew in the small botanic garden at Teotihuacan dedicated to plants used by the Aztecs and other peoples at the time. Its acidic fruit is known in Spanish as pitaya agria, sour pitaya. All in all I had a great trip, and I can’t wait to return to Mexico!
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Mainly cacti, with a preference for Mexican ones, but I'm flexible!

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Re: Adventures in central Mexico

Postby BryanW » Sat Jan 27, 2018 4:20 am

Absolutely stunning pics Frank, thanks for sharing (tu)
I had to mouse over the pics to ID them and tie them in with the text, they were in reverse order.
Last edited by BryanW on Sat Jan 27, 2018 1:32 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Frank103
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Re: Adventures in central Mexico

Postby Frank103 » Sat Jan 27, 2018 7:45 am

BryanW wrote:Absolutely stunning pics Frank, thanks for sharing (tu)
I had to mouse over the pics to ID them and tie them in with the text, they are in reverse order.


Thank you Bryan!
I have no idea why the photos are not showing correctly in the text as I placed each one in-line where it should go. Maybe some problem with the software. Sorry about that!
Mainly cacti, with a preference for Mexican ones, but I'm flexible!

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